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Goalie matchup: Canadiens-Bruins

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Goalie matchup: Canadiens-Bruins
Goaltending is the most important position in any playoff battle. Without good goaltending, the Stanley Cup is near impossible to win.
 
So NHL.com decided to break down the strengths and weaknesses of the 16 goalies that will compete for this year's Stanley Cup championship in the most in-depth manner possible.

In order to do that, we found some experts, enlisting Ken Baker and Justin Goldman.

Baker, most recognizable as E!’s Chief News Correspondent, is a goalie junkie. Not only did he play the position in college, but he wrote a memorable book about playing the position, They Don't Play Hockey in Heaven, which chronicled his attempt to make the ECHL's Bakersfield Condors after overcoming a brain tumor. He is also the brain behind the Stop Da Puck blog, which details all things goaltending.

Goldman, meanwhile, is one of the preeminent goaltending experts on the Web. His site, www.thegoalieguild.com serves as a haven for those who share a passion for goaltending with a mission to enhance and advance knowledge of the goaltending position through a wide variety of interactive and in-depth scouting services.

For this exercise, we used a draft mechanism that allowed each expert to pick four of his favorite goalies and start the discussion. Baker picked the four goalies he wanted to trumpet in the West, leaving the rebuttal to Goldman. In the East, Goldman made the picks, leaving rebuttal duties to Baker.

Here are the intriguing results, which promise to be a treasure trove of insider info on the men that more than anyone will determine who advances to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

No. 3 Boston vs. No. 6 Montreal
Justin Goldman chooses Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins: Tim Thomas is a true goaltending enigma.

Everything he does is the complete opposite of what today's elite butterfly goalie is taught to do. He is the world's finest "read-and-react" goaltender and simply does whatever it takes to stop the puck. He's a crowd-pleaser, a bold and animated man that wears his emotions on his sweat-soaked sleeves. His everlasting aggressiveness also reveals a fiery side that makes him the ultimate competitor.

When juxtaposed with Carey Price's technically sound style, I ask myself which goalie is more valuable in such a heated rivalry. Personally, I choose fire over ice. Give me the guy who has the ability to abandon technique when needed and put forth the sheer effort needed to make the timely save.

Here's another advantage to Thomas' style -- his shorter legs. With a slightly wider stance, the speed at which he drops down into the butterfly and seals his knees and pads to the ice is slightly quicker than a goalie with longer legs.

Watch when he sets up for a shot. His legs will flare out just slightly so that his knees get closer to the ice. This allows him to drop down and pop back up even faster, which makes him that much more mobile and agile in the crease.
 
Thomas also enters the playoffs with plenty of swagger and confidence. He broke the modern-day save percentage record with a .938 mark and also notched a League-best 2.00 goals-against average. He accomplished these feats in just 57 games, so he's also way more rested than Price, who played in a whopping 74 games.

As much as I love Price's stellar fundamentals and youthful enthusiasm, I have to side with Thomas, the NHL's true goalie berserker. He's wild, crazy, and literally attacks pucks in a bloodthirsty manner.
Baker counters: Carey Price spends so much time under a microscope in Montreal you'd think he was more of a lab experiment than a goaltender.
 
Aptly, Price's season did start off as something of an experiment. You had GM Pierre Gauthier's then-unproven hypothesis that Price was the better franchise goalie for the Habs than Jaroslav Halak, the fan favorite whom he let go. At the time, the Habs hordes feared their GM was a mad scientist.
 
Less than a year later, after a Vezina-contending season in which he has put up the best numbers of his young career, Price has made Gauthier look less like Dr. Frankenstein and more like Dr. Einstein.
 
Positionally, Price plays with poise -- and at the core of his mindful presence is a stance that perfectly combines just deep enough of a crouch with the right amount of upper-body erectness.
 
But while his stance serves as the cornerstone of his textbook-sound play, it's just one piece to the much-improved puzzle that has been Price. Gone is the gangly goalie of his first couple seasons, when he was definitely fun to watch dive and dash, but was about as consistently good as a group of Molson-swilling singers at a Quebec karaoke bar.

Indeed, the new Price is right -- more pucks are hitting him because of his squared-off positioning.
 
The series matchup with Thomas will be a study in contrasts. Price's sleek, youthful, modernly conventional game is the yin to Thomas' old-school yang of drop, flop and roll. Given that Thomas is 13 years older than Price, one might think their opposing styles would be reversed, with Thomas being the calm Mr. Miagi to Price's erratic Kid.

But despite what Gauthier's experimenting might have you believe, Price and Thomas remind us that goaltending remains just as much of an art as a science.

Quote of the Day

I might have blacked out. I was pretty pumped.

— New Jersey Devils rookie goalie Keith Kinkaid on his first NHL win Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning